Gulp! Avoiding Being Hooked By Bad People – or Bad Information

You may consider yourself too worldly to fall for a phishing scam.  But be honest.  Chances are that some time in your internet life, overwhelmed by the daily barrage of emails and other messages, you let your guard down.  That’s when you received an authoritative-looking email with a link you clicked on in haste, only to learn you were tricked by a cyber-criminal seeking to take control of your computer and/or steal your valuable personal information.

If this has never happened to you, then you are most savvy.  Or maybe lucky.   Care to test your level of gullibility? SonicWall, a company that provides secure network solutions, has a 10-question quiz you can take to see if you can tell the scammers from the mere spammers.  According to the site, only 7.4% of those who have taken the quiz have scored a 100%, so if you don’t get an “A,” don’t feel too bad.

But in addition to being taken by bad people, how good are you about not to be taken in by bad information?  If fending off phishers is difficult, consider how hard it is to sift through the countless news resources – broadcast and cable networks, newspapers and magazines, email newsletters, blogs, tweets, comments, and on and on.  Even the most respected, best- intentioned members of the fourth estate can sometimes, if inadvertently, misrepresent the reality involving a particular issue or story.  And while the blogosphere and comments boards offer democracy the greatest forum in human history, the conversations often have less to do with sober scholarship and due diligence than with emotional and even juvenile partisanship (partisanship in the broadest sense of that term).  Even the most discerning information consumer will at some point, due to data-weary vulnerability, accept something as fact when it should have been treated with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The tools that make it so easy to disseminate inaccurate and distorted information also enable simple double-checking of facts.  So while it’s easy to get caught in the frenetic pace of an electronic news junkie, it’s also simple enough to step back and carefully consider an article or statement that’s been presented as truth.  Just as one might use the web to authenticate or debunk a phishy-looking email, one can conduct a Google web and news search to bring up a wide range of well-documented results covering a seemingly infinite range of topics.

There are also numerous sites dedicated to fact-checking.  One such site is, in fact, called FactCheck, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, which tests the validity of assertions made in the world of politics.   Another, Snopes, has become popular for verifying or discrediting urban legends across a wide range of categories.

So the next time someone tries to play on your emotions, whether with a scary looking email pretending to be from your bank or a terrifying-sounding message masquerading as the truth, don’t forget the power of the Internet to shine a light on the reality of the situation.  It can’t hurt to get information from more than one source.

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